August 21

As Ed Rogers argued recently, this is the summer of Democrats’ discontent, with little indication that the fall will be any better. Most of the oddsmakers today believe that a Republican takeover of the Senate is likelier than the alternative, so in the grand tradition of punditry, we can look beyond what hasn’t even happened yet to speculate about its consequences. My read of the situation is that people like Rogers should enjoy the build-up to controlling both arms of Congress because winning campaigns is much easier and more fun than governing.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

There is, of course, a scenario in which Republican control of the House and the Senate could be very good for that party’s prospects. The Republican leadership could send a series of cleverly crafted bills with popular items wrapped around poison pills, at least from the Democratic perspective. Such a strategy would put President Obama in an awkward position. To pursue a winning veto strategy, the president would have to do what he has shown little patience for: sustained communications. It won’t be enough for the president to say, as he so often does, “Look, this bill is nothing more than a transparent trick with lots of nice stuff on the outside, but at the heart is gutting the Environmental Protection Agency” (or fill in the blank) and expect the American people to simply agree. (Maybe the president should call these bills “shiny apples with razor blades” or “poisoned Oreos.”) First of all, he isn’t popular enough to win anything on the first pass, and second, the American people aren’t nearly as rational as our president seems to presume. In other words, the president can’t be “one and done” when it comes to framing his opposition, or pretty quickly the tables will turn, and he will look like the obstructionist.

What makes this Republican approach less likely is the fact that neither party has shown an affinity for discipline in government. Undoubtedly, the Republicans will overreach; already Mitch McConnell is talking about playing government shutdown roulette if he becomes majority leader, and hard-right Republicans will probably skip the sugar and go straight to the poison when it comes to legislation. Of course, such an outcome will advantage neither side, which has become the pattern in U.S. politics. When you are not sure of how various scenarios will play out for one side or the other, it’s usually a safe bet in politics these days that greater responsibility brings more unpopularity.